Find out what life is really like at Durham University

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a student facing the impending Easter term must be in want of a study space.

Whichever method of examination your degree requires – whether trial-by-exam or essay-based evaluation – every Durham student will undoubtedly find themselves in need of a place to work, write, and/or procrastinate which is slightly less claustrophobic than the confines of their bedroom. Naturally, a Library should be your first port of call (if only for the convenience of their proximity to study resources and coffee machines).

The problem is that this logical decision to study ‘in the Library’ is not quite as simple as it seems. It’s a rather privileged dilemma to have, admittedly, but nevertheless in Durham there is another layer of choice. The next question, then, is – well, which Library?

Let’s consider your options.

The Bill Bryson Library (Billy B)

Bill Bryson library at night

When someone says they’re off to the Library, it’s usually safe to assume they mean the Billy B (…or the bar, there is actually a pub called the Library). This is the biggest Library by far, it’s home to the grand majority of books on campus, as well as boasting a newly-renovated café, IT support, and an often skin-saving short loan collection.

Its size does not just enable it to fit in an impressive number of books, however – it also means that it contains a variety of types of study space. Whether you prefer to study in natural light, on tables outside, in a secluded study room, in amongst book shelves, or even in a cubby (with colour-controllable lighting, believe it or not!), there’ll be an option that suits you somewhere!

Another obvious benefit of the Bill Bryson’s size is that it’s the library which, during peak times, is open 24/7 – invaluable for those who find that they absorb information better at 4am, or (perhaps more likely) the day before a deadline.

Unsurprisingly, Billy B is rather popular, particularly in the lead-up to the deadline and exam period. It’s highly recommended that you use the handy tool on their website to see how many study spaces are still available before you set out – especially if you’ve slept in and are heading in late!

Palace Green Library

Palace Green Library near the Cathedral

In all honesty, I’m reluctant to include the Palace Green Library (or, technically, the Barker Research Library situated within it) on this list. That’s not because it’s a bad Library, though – quite the reverse. I just don’t want people to know how good it is. Now that I’ve spilt the beans, though, I suppose I should really justify why it merits such high praise.

For one, it’s utterly, breathtakingly, beautiful. It’s largely illuminated by natural light, by virtue of its massive windows, and its smaller size means that it’s particularly tranquil. It’s also in a particularly convenient location – virtually right in the centre of town! If you get peckish, though, there’s not even a need to leave the building; there’s a lovely on-site café to fulfil any cake and caffeine needs. Although it’s only open 9am-5pm, this may actually be an advantage for habitual over-workers, for it forces you to have a break!

(Although irrelevant for some subjects, the Library’s fabulous Special Collections is also well worth a mention: there’s few geeky thrills which match poring over an old book!)

College Libraries

St Mary’s College Library

Although each of Durham’s Colleges prides itself on being different, they’re all lucky enough to have a Library – and at least one Librarian – to call their own. It’s definitely worth exploring the spaces, and the resources, which they offer, if you haven’t already had the pleasure of doing so; as each of the libraries is unique, each have their own little quirks! As a space primarily limited to your own College’s members, you’ll likely face much less competition for desk space, and you may well find the collegiate environment lends the library an atmosphere which is a lot more homely and informal! (If you find yourself in need of a resource from another College library, however, do feel free to contact their Librarian – or your own College’s Librarian, if you prefer, and they’ll put you in touch)

I must declare my own bias: as a College Librarian myself, I am bound to espouse their virtues…but I genuinely believe that all the college libraries give students the warm welcome that is so desperately needed at stressful times! Find out a bit more about the Colleges in the College Guide.

Clayport Library

Sometimes you need to break out of the University bubble – stress can be catching! When you fancy being surrounded by some new faces, do remember that you can always use Durham’s public library, Clayport. Although it’s not a specialist academic library, it is open to everyone…and that includes academic users. The space really couldn’t be more conveniently situated; it’s right in the centre of town, just opposite the Gala cinema (useful for grabbing a Tesco meal deal, for those who are guilty of frequently forgetting those essential study snacks).

Leazes Road (Education) Library

Leazes Road newly refurbished social space

Okay, you may not be training to be a teacher, but you’re going through education – and apparently, that qualifies you enough to be admitted into Leazes Road Library. That’s a loophole for which we should be incredibly grateful, because this library has just had a facelift…and the new decor will, quite literally, brighten your day. Rumours also have it that it offers cut-price coffee and tea: if the colourful chairs aren’t enough to warm your study-hardened heart, then the hot drinks should do it.

Business Library

Little but lovely: the Business Library at the Business School may be small, but it offers a surprisingly large amount. Fittingly, it’s very modern (with computers as well as study spaces), outside seating, and offers the substantial perk of free hot drinks (provided that you help save the environment and bring your own cup!). Plus, its cafe is astoundingly big, and with lots of choice; if study breaks are your favourite time of the day, then you can – quite literally – go large on lunch here.

Honorary Mention: Outside

Botanic Garden cafe

Okay, ‘The Great Outdoors’ isn’t the name of a Durham Library…but perhaps it should be. Considering the natural beauty of the area, it seems a shame to let the summer months slip by unnoticed – even if concessions must be made to impending exams. I highly recommend, on a sunny day, doing some roaming revision.

Your options include (though are by no means limited to):

However and wherever you prefer to study, Durham will have a desk (or bench, beanbag, or picnic blanket) for you!

Durham SU has a study space map – view it here

The library web page has a list of all study spaces across the uni, take a look at it here.

Emily Smith


Hi I’m Emily, as befits a recent English graduate, I was Collingwood College’s student Librarian when I was in Durham (I hope to return soon to study more). You’ll usually find me, for either work or play, buried in archives researching the obscure, the niche, and the forgotten…and sometimes wrangling dragons.


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